In addition to food safety and biological defenses, Thompson's successor will be in charge of implementing the Medicare prescription drug plan narrowly passed by Congress in 2003. The program to provide new federal aid to help seniors pay for prescription medicine, which is scheduled to be phased in by 2006, already has come under fire from some who voted for it in Congress because of its rising price tag.
Leavitt said today that he also would focus on reducing medical liability costs and on guiding medical research programs that would report to him, including the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
President Bush listens to Mike Leavitt after he was nominated to be the next Secretary of Health and Human Services during a press conference in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Monday.
(Brendan Smialowski - AFP)
In addition, the Department of Health and Human Services oversees the Food and Drug Administration and many federal poverty and welfare programs.
Leavitt succeeded Christine Todd Whitman at EPA just over a year ago. He expressed "real sense of understandable regret" about leaving the agency after such a short time, but said he saw strong connections between his work at EPA and the focus of Health and Human Services.
"The quality of health and the health condition of people in this nation is a commitment that is shared among both agencies, as is the connection between science and health," Leavitt said.
Bush did not announce a replacement for Leavitt.
As a governor, Leavitt gained national recognition for pioneering a decision-making process in environmental policies called "enlibra." Leavitt has described the process as an inclusive way of balancing environmental and economic concerns. Leavitt and his admirers have often cited his success brokering a multistate agreement to reduce regional haze that has blocked sunlight over the Grand Canyon as an example of enlibra's potential when applied nationally.
But environmental advocates generally gave Leavitt a mixed record as governor, accusing him of siding with industry in regulatory disputes, and that criticism has persisted since Leavitt joined the Bush administration. Some environmentalists have criticized Leavitt and the Bush administration for their focus on emphasizing business incentives over stronger regulation to reduce pollution.